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New Years Resolutions written on a note pad.

Improving Your Oral Health Should Be Your #1 Resolution

January 03, 2019
By Barry R. Stromberg, DDS
Park Dental St. Croix Valley

At the start of a new year, we all make resolutions with the hopes of improving our lives – exercise more, try new things, spend less time on our phones, etc. I strongly encourage you to consider adding “Improving My Oral Health” to your list of resolutions. Dental health plays an integral role in your overall health. Consider incorporating some of the below suggestions into your 2019 resolutions. Even small steps, like committing to floss once a day, can have a big impact down the road. As with any resolution, it’s important to keep them simple and manageable, so they haven’t already been forgotten by February 1st.

  1. Improve your brushing habits
    Brushing your teeth removes plaque – a sticky, colorless, invisible film of harmful bacteria – that builds up on your teeth every day. Failing to remove plaque can lead to bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. Poor oral health can also affect your overall health and has been linked to other serious conditions like heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, difficulty controlling blood sugar levels in diabetes, low birth weight/pre-term births and even Alzheimer’s disease.

    Brush Correctly
    One of the biggest tips for brushing is to make sure you aren’t brushing too aggressively and irritating gums or causing abrasions on your teeth. Brush with a soft bristled toothbrush, at a 45 degree angle toward your gumline, using short, gentle back and forth strokes. Brush for a full two minutes, twice a day! Many people simply don’t brush long enough which, leads to missing areas and not removing plaque as well as possible. Don’t hesitate to set a timer on your phone for two minutes or even invest in an electric toothbrush that automatically turns off after two minutes.

    Choose the correct tooth brush
    A good toothbrush should be able to reach all the places that need cleaning. Your toothbrush should have soft bristles that are flexible. When brushing your teeth, harder isn’t better. Hard bristles are actually harsh and can wear down the structure of your tooth. Scrubbing too hard, thinking that it will thoroughly clean your teeth and gums, can also damage your teeth and gums. Gently brush your teeth and gums as if you’re massaging them.

    Change your toothbrush regularly
    When the bristles start to wear, it’s time to change your toothbrush. Worn bristles are less effective at cleaning your teeth. We recommend changing your toothbrush every three to four months. Consider changing your toothbrush with the seasons as a way to remember to do it every 3 months.  It’s also a good idea to change your toothbrush after you have been sick.

  2. Commit to flossing once a day
    Brushing alone isn’t enough to keep plaque from building up on your teeth, or to completely remove bits of food from your mouth. Brushing only reaches about two thirds of your tooth surfaces. To take the best care of your teeth, you need to floss as well. Flossing is the only way to remove plaque from between teeth and below the gumline, where decay and gum disease often begin. Gently slide the floss back and forth between your teeth till you reach the gumline. If you’re not in the habit of flossing, the new year is a great time to start. One simple way to make it easier to remember is by putting your floss right next to your toothbrush and toothpaste. That way you see it every time you brush your teeth. I also recommend keeping floss in your purse or desk drawer at work, so that you can floss on the go if you forget to do it at home.

  3. Eat healthier
    You may have already resolved to lose weight or eat healthier, which is great! A healthy diet is also important for maintaining good dental health. Nutrients in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and whole grains strengthen teeth and fight bacteria that cause gum disease. Make a point this year to incorporate more tooth-healthy foods in your daily diet. Antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts improve your body’s ability to fight bacteria and inflammation, helping to protect your teeth and gums. In addition, crisp fruits and raw vegetables like apples, carrots and celery help clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath. Dairy products, which are high in calcium, are also great for your teeth.

    Another tip is to limit snacking throughout the day. Frequent consumption of food and beverages containing carbohydrates (sugars) and acids contribute to tooth decay because they may sit on your teeth for long periods of time.  This gives the bacteria in your mouth time to digest the sugars, creating acid, which causes tooth decay. If you do snack, rinse your mouth with water or chew sugarless gum containing Xylitol to help neutralize acids and reduce cavity-causing bacteria and plaque buildup.

  4. Quit smoking
    There is no better time than the present to make a resolution to stop tobacco use. Quitting cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use is important for improving your oral and overall health. Using tobacco can harm your mouth in a number of ways. Smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as non-smokers. Smoking increases your risk for bad breath, tooth discoloration, cavities, gum recession, gum disease and throat, lung and oral cancer and is linked to a host of other health issues.

    If you currently use tobacco, consider quitting this year. Solicit the support of your friends, family and dentist to help you quit. Try replacing cigarettes with a healthier habit, like chewing sugar free gum, which stimulates the flow of saliva that washes away bacteria. It’s not easy, but quitting smoking can grant immediate oral health benefits. Besides the myriad general health reasons to motivate you, holding on to your teeth may be a helpful reminder.

  5. Cut back on sugar and soda
    Sugary snacks and beverages are your teeth’s worst enemy. When sugars are broken down in your mouth, they produce acids that wear away your enamel and cause tooth decay. Make it a goal this year to limit your intake of sweets, for your health and your teeth! Simple swaps can help you cut back: Drink water flavored with mint leaves or sliced fruit instead of soda and other sugary drinks, omit the sugar from you coffee and tea, chew a piece of sugar-free gum when you have a craving for something sweet. If you do drink a soda or eat acidic foods, do so quickly and in one sitting, don’t sip or snack on it all day. Once finished, rinse your mouth with water or chew sugar free gum to wash away the sugar and acid to help prevent tooth decay.

  6. Visit your dentist regularly
    Has it been a while since you’ve seen a dentist? Regular dental visits are one of the most important things you can do when looking after your teeth. Regular checkups allow your dentist monitor your oral health and address any concerns before they become bigger problems, saving you time and money in the long run. For example, a cavity only tends to hurt once it has reached the center of the tooth where the nerves are located. At this point, a filling may not be able to resolve the problem. You may need a root canal and/or a crown. Detecting problems early is so important. Simply put, prevention is cheaper than restoration. Plus, people who visit the dentist on a regular basis tend to have better overall well-being, so it’s well worth your time. To make the process of scheduling visits easier, book your next appointment before you leave the office. That way you won’t forget when life gets busy!

We owe a lot to our teeth and gums, so this year I hope you resolve to treat your mouth right by: brushing and flossing, eating healthy, quitting smoking, cutting sugar and visiting your dentist.  Adding a few of these “tooth-friendly” resolutions to your list will go a long way toward giving you a brighter, healthier smile for years to come. Reminder, keep your new year’s resolutions as easy as possible to help you stick with them. Take things one step at a time to achieve your larger goal.  And if you forget to floss one day or eat a big piece of candy the next, don’t give up, there’s always tomorrow to get back on track!

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